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Contrary to popular belief, sex doesn’t sell, not any more – at least when it comes to hard sell advertising.
According to new research conducted in the US, advertisements with sexual innuendoes can even potentially put customers off buying a product.
Ohio State University psychologist Professor Brad Bushman said: ‘We found almost no evidence violent and sexual programmes and ads increased advertising effectiveness.
“In general, we found violent and sexual programmes, and ads with violent or sexual content, decreased advertising effectiveness.’
The findings, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin,suggest advertisers hoping to sway consumers might want to rethink running spots within media with violent or sexual themes.
One reason cited is that people pay so much attention to the graphic material, their minds are distracted from what is actually being plugged.
Bushman and the the report’s lead author Robert Lull analysed 53 studies carried out in 2014 to measure the influences of violent and sexual content on advertising effectiveness with regards to brand memory, brand attitudes and buying intentions.
“They may do better if the ads themselves have a G-rating, which in the US means they are appropriate for a general audience,” added the researchers.
An interesting correlation was also found with media reports.
While the researchers found no significant effects of violent or sexual content in advertisements themselves, they did note that in a few studies when media content and ad content were similar, such as a violent ad in violent media or a sexual ad in sexual media, viewers were more likely to remember them and had a stronger intention to buy the product.
But Lull added that as the sexual content of an ad increased from suggestive poses to full frontal nudity, viewers’ memory, attitudes and buying intentions all decreased.
‘It is not that people are not attracted to sex and violence.
‘On the contrary, people have been attracted to sex and violence since evolutionary times, when attending to violent cues prevented our ancestors from being killed by enemies or predators and paying attention to sexual cues attuned our ancestors to potential reproductive opportunities.’
But, while violence and sex attract attention, it is at the expense of surrounding content that is neither violent nor sexual, according to Lull.
‘Sex and violence do not sell, and in fact they may even backfire by impairing memory, attitudes and buying intentions for advertised products.
“Thus, advertisers should think twice about sponsoring violent and sexual programmes, and about using violent and sexual themes in their ads,” said Professor Bushman.
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